By Fr. Ron Seminara, SJ
In his encyclical Laudato Si, after stating that human-generated climate change must be urgently addressed, Pope Francis calls all people to conversion, which lies at the heart of his plea on behalf of the environment.
Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect (Rom 12:1-2).
The denial, continued destruction, and modern distractions which militate against any hope for healing our “common home,” our planet, need to be vigorously challenged. Yet, Christians, as people of hope, trust in the God of salvation, who has promised his presence until space and time end. Firmly grounded in holy hope and in a sacramental view of creation, Catholics are morally obliged to confront still another aspect of the “culture of death” promoted by a society bent on self-annihilation under the guise of individual freedom as it exploits nature and the human beings who depend upon creation for survival.
For thus says the Lord, the creator of the heavens, who is God,
The designer and maker of the earth who established it,
Not creating it to be a waste, but designing it to be lived in:
I am the Lord, and there is no other (Is 45:17-18).
Our Holy Father reminds us of Saint John Paul II’s call for a global ecological conversion which not only respects the human person but also concerns itself with the planet’s
systems of support for its living organisms; a moral conversion is necessary to “take into account the nature of each being and of its mutual connection in an ordered system” (John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, 1987; “everything is closely interrelated” (LS 137). We may well heed the wisdom of our Lakota brothers and sisters in this respect, repeated in so many ways in Laudato Si.
Conversion and catastrophe both involve a turning. One is intentional and active; the other unintended and passive. The encyclical demands what may be most difficult: a conversion not merely from fossil fuels to renewables, but a conversion which begins with the heart and mind, even while a change of behavior is underway. Most seculars would call for a “change of attitude”; Christians descend deeper, designating it metanoia or repentance: a revolution from self-centeredness and a turning to the communion which the Creator desires for every one of his creatures. This transformation is none less than feeling with the
Father’s heart, and gazing upon the world through Jesus’ eyes.
“There is no communion with God without transformation of the heart, and there is no transformation of the heart apart from Jesus Christ. An unconverted heart walks in darkness; it loves the darkness more than the light and does not seek to escape from the shadows” (Jn 3:19-20). (Pope Francis, “Open Mind, Faithful Heart Reflections on Following Jesus,” p. 74)
The Lord’s vision derives from a change of heart which focuses on an ecological view environmentally, economically, socially, culturally, and humanly integral, since each influences the others. It may be no accident that “Care for God’s Creation” is last of the seven general themes of Catholic Social Teaching. Without this theme, acting as a capstone, promoting a healthy natural environment, the life and dignity of human beings, especially of the poor, and their participation in family, community, work, and solidarity in building a just and peaceful global society would surely suffer if not be impossible to realize.
Protection of the environment is not an option. Not to care for the environment is to ignore the Creator’s plan for all of creation and result in an alienation of the human person. (Pope St. John Paul II, message for the World Day of Peace, 1990)
Christian care speaks to the dignity of the human person, created in the image of a compassionate and caring God, who wills fulfillment for his works. Pope Francis describes as a fallacy the “technocratic paradigm” to solve all problems, including climate change. If the world’s people do not understand the death-dealing in present economic and social structures, and begin to adopt an alternative vision for human activity, there is little science can accomplish.
Again, such a revolution must begin with repentance and conversion of heart. Catholics are in a privileged place in this regard given the church’s long-standing social justice tradition, which acts as a scaffold not only to protect the environment but to renew it.
As Lent approaches, it may well be spiritually beneficial to reflect prayerfully on Laudato Si, easily downloaded online, and to petition for compassion of heart, enlightenment of mind, and courage to care for our common home, through which the world receives the loving nurture of a generous God. In this Year of Mercy, what actions are necessary to envision and to understand our place in the garden God has created? What is required of those who are to live the Beatitudes?
How blessed are those whose strength is in You,
In whose heart are the highways to Zion.
Passing through the bitter valley, they make it a spring;
the early rain also covers it with blessings (Ps 84:6-7).
Send forth your Spirit and let us be created, and renew the face of the earth.
Father Seminara is the Associate Director of the Ministry Formation Program. He resides at Sioux Spiritual Center, Howes.